Philosophical Fragments

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Philosophical Fragments (Danish title: Philosophiske Smuler eller En Smule Philosophi) was a Christian philosophic work written by Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard in 1844. It is a discussion of "how" a person arrives at Absolute Truth vs historical or philosophical truths.


  • Propositio: The question is asked in ignorance, by one who does not even know what can have led him to ask it.
  • When Philip threatened to lay siege to the city of Corinth and all its inhabitants hastily bestirred themselves in defense, some polishing weapons, some gathering stones, some repairing the walls, Diogenes seeing all this hurriedly folded his mantle about him and began to roll his tub zealously back and forth through the streets. When he was asked why he did this he replied that he wished to be busy like all the rest, and rolled his tub lest he should be the only idler among so many industrious citizens. Such conduct is at any rate not sophistical, if Aristotle be right in describing sophistry as the art of making money. It is certainly not open to misunderstanding; it is quite inconceivable that Diogenes should have been hailed as the saviour and benefactor of the city.
    • p. 5
  • May I escape the tragicomic predicament of being forced to laugh at my own misfortune, as must have been the case with the good people of Fredericia, when they awoke one morning to read in the newspaper an account of a fire in their town, in which it was described how "the drums beat the alarm, the fire-engines rushed through the streets" -- although the town of Fredericia boasts of only one fire-engine and not much more than one street; leaving it to be inferred that this one engine, instead of making for the scene of the fire, took time to execute important maneuvers and flanking movements up and down the street. However, my little piece is not very apt to suggest the beating of a drum, and its author is perhaps the last man in the world to sound the alarm.
    • p. 6

A Project of Thought[edit]

  • How far does the Truth admit of being learned? (…)For what a man knows he cannot seek, since he knows it; and what he does not know he cannot seek, since he does not even know for what to seek. Socrates thinks the difficulty through in the doctrine of Recollection, by which all learning and inquiry is interpreted as a kind of remembering; one who is ignorant needs only a reminder to help him come to himself in the consciousness of what he knows. Thus the Truth is not introduced into the individual from without, but was within him.
    • p. 8
  • while no human being was ever truly an authority for another, or ever helped anyone by posing as such, or was ever able to take his client with him in truth, there is another sort of success that may by such methods be won; for it has never yet been known to fail that one fool, when he goes astray, takes several others with him. With this understanding of what it means to learn the Truth, the fact that I have been instructed by Socrates or by Prodicus or by a servant-girl, can concern me only historically …
    • p. 9-10
  • One who gives the learner not only the Truth, but also the condition for understanding it, is more than teacher. All instruction depends upon the presence, in the last analysis, of the requisite condition; if this is lacking, no teacher can do anything. For otherwise he would find it necessary not only to transform the learner, but to recreate him before beginning to teach him. But this is something that no human being can do; if it is to be done, it must be done by the God himself.
    • p. 11
  • all his powers unite to make him the slave of sin. -- What now shall we call such a Teacher, one who restores the lost condition and gives the learner the Truth? Let us call him Saviour, for he saves the learner from his bondage and from himself; let us call him Redeemer, for he redeems the learner from the captivity into which he had plunged himself, and no captivity is so terrible and so impossible to break, as that in which the individual keeps himself. And still we have not said all that is necessary; for by his self-imposed bondage the learner has brought upon himself a burden of guilt, and when the Teacher gives him the condition and the Truth he constitutes himself an Atonement, taking away the wrath impending upon that of which the learner has made himself guilty.
    • p. 13
  • In so far as the learner was in Error, and now receives the Truth and with it the condition for understanding it, a change takes place within him like the change from non-being to being. But this transition from non-being to being is the transition we call birth. Now one who exists cannot be born; nevertheless, the disciple is born. Let us call this transition the New Birth, in consequence of which the disciple enters the world quite as at the first birth, an individual human being knowing nothing as yet about the world into which he is born, whether it is inhabited, whether there are other human beings in it besides himself; for while it is indeed possible to be baptized en masse, it is not possible to be born anew en masse.
    • p. 14
  • In the Moment man becomes conscious that he is born; for his antecedent state, to which he may not cling, was one of non-being. In the Moment man also becomes conscious of the new birth, for his antecedent state was one of non-being
    • p. 14

The God as Teacher and Saviour: An Essay of the Imagination[edit]

  • The Moment makes its appearance when an eternal resolve comes into relation with an incommensurable occasion. Unless this is realized I we shall be thrown back on Socrates, and shall then have neither the God as Teacher, nor an Eternal Purpose, nor the Moment. Moved by love, the God is thus eternally resolved to reveal himself. But as love is the motive so love must also be the end; for it would be a contradiction for the God to have a motive and an end which did not correspond. His love is a love of the learner, and his aim is to win him.
    • p. 20
  • But if the Moment is to have decisive significance (and if not we return to Socrates even if we think to advance beyond him), the learner is in Error, and that by reason of his own guilt. And yet he is the object of the God’s love, and the God desires to teach him, and is concerned to bring him to equality with himself. If this equality cannot be established, the God’s love becomes unhappy and his teaching meaningless, since they cannot understand one another. Men sometimes think that this might be a matter of indifference to the God, since he does not stand in need of the learne
    • p. 22
  • But if the Moment is to have decisive significance, how unspeakable will be the God’s anxiety! There once lived a people who had a profound understanding of the divine; this people thought that no man could see the God and live. -- Who grasps this contradiction of sorrow: not to reveal oneself is the death of love, to reveal oneself is the death of the beloved! The minds of men so often yearn for might and power, and their thoughts are constantly being drawn to such things, as if by their attainment all mysteries would be resolved. Hence they do not even dream that there is sorrow in heaven as well as joy, the deep grief of having to deny the learner what he yearns for with all his heart, of having to deny him precisely because he is the beloved.
    • p. 24
  • Behold there he stands -- the God! Where? There; do you not see him? He is the God; and yet he has not a resting-place for his head, and he dares not lean on any man lest he cause him to be offended. He is the God; and yet he picks his steps more carefully than if angels guided them, not to prevent his foot from stumbling against a stone, but lest he trample human beings in the dust, in that they are offended in him. He is the God; and yet his eye rests upon mankind with deep concern, for the tender shoots of an individual life may be crushed as easily as a blade of grass
    • p. 25
  • It is not impossible that it might occur to man to imagine himself the equal of the God, or to imagine the God the equal of man, but not to imagine that the God would make himself into the likeness of man; for if the God gave no sign, how could it enter into the mind of man that the blessed God should need him? This would be a most stupid thought, or rather, so stupid a thought could never have entered into his mind; though when the God has seen fit to entrust him with it he exclaims in worship: This thought did not arise in my own heart! and finds it a most miraculously beautiful thought.
    • p. 28

The Absolute Paradox: A Metaphysical Crotchet[edit]

  • I always reason from existence, not toward existence, whether I move in the sphere of palpable sensible fact or in the realm of thought. I do not for example prove that a stone exists, but that some existing thing is a stone. The procedure in a court of justice does not prove that a criminal exists, but that the accused, whose existence is given, is a criminal.
    • p. 31
  • for the fool says in his heart that there is no God, but whoever says in his heart or to men: Wait just a little and I will prove it -- what a rare man of wisdom is he!3 If in the moment of beginning his proof it is not absolutely undetermined whether the God exists or not, he does not prove it; and if it is thus undetermined in the beginning he will never come to begin, partly from fear of failure, since the God perhaps does not exist, and partly because he has nothing with which to begin.
    • p. 32
  • There exists an individual whose appearance is precisely like that of other men; he grows up to manhood like others, he marries, he has an occupation by which he earns his livelihood, and he makes provision for the future as befits a man. For though it may be beautiful to live like the birds of the air, it is not lawful, and may lead to the sorriest of consequences: either starvation if one has enough persistence, or dependence on the bounty of others. This man is also the God. How do I know? I cannot know it, for in order to know it I would have to know the God, and the nature of the difference between the God and man; and this I cannot know, because the Reason has reduced it to likeness with that from which it was unlike.
    • p. 34
  • In order to be man’s Teacher, the God proposed to make himself like the individual man, so that he might understand him fully. Thus our paradox is rendered still more appalling, or the same paradox has the double aspect which proclaims it as the Absolute Paradox; negatively by revealing the absolute unlikeness of sin, positively by proposing to do away with the absolute unlikeness in absolute likeness.
    • p. 35
  • The Reason says that the Paradox is absurd, but this is mere mimicry, since the Paradox is the Paradox, quia absurdum. The offended consciousness holds aloof from the Paradox and keeps to the probable, since the Paradox is the most improbable of things. Again it is not the Reason that made this discovery; it merely snatches the words from the mouth of the Paradox, strange as this may seem; for the Paradox itself says: Comedies and romances and lies must needs be probable, but why should I be probable? The offended consciousness holds aloof from the Paradox, and what wonder, since the Paradox is the Miracle! This discovery was not made by the Reason; it was that Paradox that placed the Reason on the stool of wonderment and now replies: But why are you so astonished?
    • p. 38

The Case of the Contemporary Disciple[edit]

  • The God has thus made his appearance as Teacher (for we now resume our story), and has assumed the form of a servant. To send another in his place, one high in his confidence, could not satisfy him; just as it could not satisfy the noble king to send in his stead even the most trusted man in his kingdom. But the God had also another reason; for between man and man the Socratic relationship is the highest and truest. If the God had not come himself, all the relations would have remained on the Socratic level; we would not have had the Moment, and we would have lost the Paradox. The God’s servant-form however is not a mere disguise, but is actual; it is not a parastatic body but an actual body; and from the hour that in the omnipotent purpose of his omnipotent love the God become a servant, he has so to speak imprisoned himself in his resolve, and is now bound to go on (to speak foolishly) whether it pleases him or no.
    • p. 42
  • If the God had permitted himself to be born in an inn, wrapped in swaddling-clothes and laid in a manger, could the contradiction have been greater than that the news of the day should be the swaddling-clothes of the Eternal, aye, as in the supposed instance its actual form, so that the Moment is really decisive for eternity! Unless the God grants the condition which makes it possible to understand this, how is it to be supposed that the learner will be able to discover it!
    • p. 44
  • As over against an eternal understanding of oneself, any knowledge about the Teacher is accidental and historical only, a mere matter of memory. As long as the Eternal and the historical are external to one another, the historical is merely an occasion.
    • p. 46
  • if the entire situation is non-Socratic, as we have assumed, the disciple will owe all to the Teacher; which is quite impossible in relation to Socrates , since as he himself says, he was unable to beget. This relationship of owing all to the Teacher cannot be expressed in terms of romancing and trumpeting, but only in that happy passion we call Faith, whose object is the Paradox. But the Paradox unites the contradictories, and is the historical made eternal, and the Eternal made historical. Everyone who understands the Paradox differently may keep the honor of having explained it, which honor he won by not being content to understand it.
    • p. 46
  • If I know Spinoza’s doctrine, then I am in so far not concerned with Spinoza but with his doctrine; at some other time I may be concerned historically with Spinoza himself. But the disciple is in Faith so related to his Teacher as to be eternally concerned with his historical existence.
    • p. 47
  • How does the learner then become a believer or disciple? When the Reason is set aside and he receives the condition. When does he receive the condition? In the Moment. What does this condition condition? The understanding of the Eternal. But such a condition must be an eternal condition. -- He receives accordingly the eternal condition in the Moment, and is aware that he has so received it; for otherwise he merely comes to himself in the consciousness that he had it from eternity. It is in the Moment that he receives it, and from the Teacher himself.
    • p. 48
  • The God gave to the disciple the condition that enables him to see him, opening for him the eyes of Faith. But it was a terrible thing to see this outward figure, to have converse with him as with one of us, and every moment that Faith was not present to see only the servant-form. When the Teacher is gone from the disciple in death, memory may bring his figure before him; but it is not on this account that the disciple believes, but because he received the condition from the God, and hence is enabled again to see, in memory s trustworthy mage, the person of the God. So it is with the disciple, who knows that he would have seen nothing without the condition, since the first thing he learned to understand was that he was in Error.
    • p. 49
  • Whoever received the condition received it from the Teacher himself, and hence the Teacher must know everyone who knows him, and no one can know the Teacher except through being known by him. Are we not agreed on this point, and do you perhaps at once perceive the remoter consequences of what we have been saying? When the believer is the believer and knows the God through having received the condition from the God himself, every successor must receive the condition from the God himself in precisely the same sense, and cannot receive it at second hand; for
    • p. 51
  • that I do not by any means doubt that you have completely understood and assented to the newest philosophy, which like the modern age generally seems to suffer from a curious distraction, confusing promise with performance, the superscription with the execution; for what age and what philosophy was ever so wonderful and wonderfully great as our own -- in superscriptions!
    • p. 54
  • Everything which comes into-existence proves precisely by coming into existence that it is not necessary, for the only thing which cannot come into existence is the necessary, because the necessary is. Is not necessity then a synthesis of possibility and actuality? What could this mean? Possibility and actuality do not differ in essence but in being; how could there from this difference be formed a synthesis constituting necessity, which is not a determination of being but a determination of essence, since it is the essence of the necessary to be.
    • p. 55
  • What has happened has happened as it happened; in this sense it does not admit of change. But is this immutability identical with the immutability of the necessary? The immutability of the past consists in the fact that its actual "thus" cannot become different; but does it follow from this that its possible "how" could not have been realized in a different manner? The immutability of the necessary, on the contrary, consists in its constant relating itself to itself, and in its relating itself to itself always in the same manner, excluding every change.
    • p. 57
  • Whoever apprehends the past, historico-philosophus, is therefore a prophet in retrospect.
    • p. 59
  • Greek skepticism was of the retiring kind (ἐποχή). The Greek skeptic did not doubt by virtue of his knowledge, but by an act of will (refusal to give assent – μετριοπαθεῖν). From this it follows that doubt can be overcome only by a free act, an act of will, as every Greek skeptic would understand as soon as he had understood himself. But he did not wish to overcome his skepticism, precisely because he willed to doubt. For this he will have to assume the responsibility; but let us not impute to him the stupidity of supposing that doubt is necessary, or the still greater stupidity of supposing that if it were, it could ever be overcome.
    • p. 61
  • Belief is the opposite of doubt. Belief and doubt are not two forms of knowledge, determinable in continuity with one another, for neither of them is a cognitive act; they are opposite passions. Belief is a sense for coming into existence, and doubt is a protest against every conclusion that transcends immediate sensation and immediate cognition.
    • p. 62
  • The historical fact for a contemporary is that the God has come into existence; for the member of a later generation the historical fact is that the God has been present through having come into existence. Herein precisely lies the contradiction. No one can become immediately contemporary with this historical fact, as has been shown in the preceding; it is the object of Faith, since it concerns coming into existence. No question is here raised as to the true content of this; the question is if one will give assent to the God’s having come into existence, by which the God’s eternal essence is inflected in the dialectical determinations of coming into existence.
    • p. 64
  • Both Plato and Aristotle insist on the principle that immediate sensation and immediate cognition cannot deceive. Later also Descartes, who says precisely as do the Greek skeptics, that error has its root in the will, which is over-hasty in drawing conclusions. This also throws light on faith; when faith resolves to believe it runs the risk of committing itself to an error, but it nevertheless believes. There is no other road to faith; if one wishes to escape risk, it is as if one wanted to know with certainty that he can swim before going into the water.
    • p. 66

The Disciple at Second Hand[edit]

  • Opposites stand revealed most clearly when they are juxtaposed, and hence we choose for discussion here the first generation of secondary disciples and the last, i.e., that which limits the given spatium, the 1843 years.
    • p. 68
  • The First Generation of Secondary Disciples This generation enjoys the (relative) advantage of being nearer to an immediate certainty, of being nearer to the attainment of an exact and reliable account of what happened, from witnesses whose reliability is subject to collateral control.
    • p. 69
  • The Last Generation This generation is far removed from the initial shock, but it has on the other hand the consequences to lean upon, the proof of probability afforded by the results. It has before it, as immediate datum, the consequences with which this fact must doubtless have invested everything; it has an obvious recourse to a demonstration of probability, from which however no immediate transition to Faith is possible, since as we have shown Faith is by no means partial to probability; to make such an assertion about Faith is to slander it. If this fact came into the world as the Absolute Paradox, nothing that happens subsequently can avail to change this. The consequences will in all eternity remain the consequences of a paradox, and hence in an ultimate view will be precisely as improbable as the Paradox itself; unless it is to be supposed that the consequences, which as such are derivative, have retroactive power to transform the Paradox, which would be about as reasonable as to suppose that a son had retroactive power to transform his own father.
    • p. 71
  • If this fact has been naturalized, birth is no longer merely birth, but is at the same time a new birth, so that one who has never before been in existence is born anew -- in being born the first time. In the individual life the hypothesis of naturalization is expressed in the principle that the individual is born with faith; in the life of the race it must be expressed in the proposition that the human race, after the introduction of this fact, has become an entirely different race, though determined in continuity with the first. In that event the race ought to adopt a new name; for there is nothing inhuman about faith as we have proposed to conceive it, as a birth within a birth (the new birth); but if it were as the proposed objection would conceive it, it would be a fabulous monstrosity.
    • p. 71-72
  • Every historical fact is merely relative, and hence it is in order for time, the relative power, to decide the relative fortunes of men with respect to contemporaneity; such a fact has no greater significance, and only childishness or stupidity could so exaggerate its importance as to make it absolute.
    • p. 74
  • If the fact in question is an eternal fact, every age is equally near; but not, it should be noted, in Faith; for Faith and the historical are correlative concepts, and it is only by an accommodation to a less exact usage that I employ in this connection the word "fact," which is derived from the historical realm.
    • p. 74
  • If the fact in question is an absolute fact, or to determine it still more precisely, if it is the fact we have described, it would be a contradiction to suppose that time had any power to differentiate the fortunes of men with respect to it, that is to say, in any decisive sense. Whatever can be essentially differentiated by time is eo ipso not the Absolute; this would be to make the Absolute itself a casus in life, or a status relative to other things
    • p. 74
  • Now just as the historical gives occasion for the contemporary to become a disciple, but only it must be noted through receiving the condition from the God himself, since otherwise we speak Socratically, so the testimony of contemporaries gives occasion for each successor to become a disciple, but only it must be noted through receiving the condition from the God himself. (…)From the God himself everyone receives the condition who by virtue of the condition becomes the disciple. If this is the case (and this has been expounded in the foregoing, where it was shown that the immediate contemporaneity is merely an occasion, but not in the sense that the condition was presupposed as already present), what becomes of the problem of the disciple at second hand? For whoever has what he has from the God himself clearly has it at first hand; and he who does not have it from the God himself is not a disciple.
    • p. 75
  • The nature of the relationship between one human being and another is something that Socrates understood with a heroism of soul which it requires courage even to appreciate. And yet it is necessary to acquire the same understanding within the framework of what has here been assumed, namely the understanding that one human being, in so far as he is a believer, owes nothing to another but everything to the God.
    • p. 76
  • For when I say that this or that has happened, I make an historical communication; but when I say: "I believe and have believed that so-and-so has taken place, although it is a folly to the understanding and an offense to the human heart," then I have simultaneously done everything in my power to prevent anyone else from determining his own attitude in immediate continuity with mine, asking to be excused from all companionship, since every individual is compelled to make up his own mind in precisely the same manner.
    • p. 76
  • A successor cannot be so tempted, for he is confined to the testimony of contemporaries, which in so far as it is the testimony of believers, has the prohibitive form of Faith. If the successor therefore understands himself he will wish that the contemporary testimony be not altogether too voluminous, and above all not filling so many books that the world can scarce contain them. There is in the immediate contemporaneity an unrest, which does not cease until the word goes forth that it is finished. But the succeeding tranquility must not be such as to do away with the historical, for then everything will be Socratic." -- "In this manner then equality seems to have been achieved, and the differences between the parties involved brought back to a fundamental likeness." -- "Such is also my opinion; but you should take into consideration the fact that it is the God himself who effects the reconciliation. Is it thinkable that the God would enter into a covenant with a few, such that this their covenant with him established a difference between them and all other men so unjust as to cry to heaven for vengeance? That would be to bring strife instead of peace. Is it conceivable that the God would permit an accident of time to decide to whom he would grant his favor? Or is it not rather worthy of the God to make his covenant with men equally difficult for every human being in every time and place; equally difficult, since no man is able to give himself the condition, nor yet is to receive it from another, thus introducing new strife; equally difficult but also equally easy, since the God grants the condition.
    • p. 79
  • If Faith ever gets the notion of marching forward triumphantly en masse, it will not be necessary to license the singing of songs of mockery, for it would not help to forbid them to all. Even if men were stricken dumb, this mad procession would draw upon itself a shrill laughter, like the mocking nature-tones on the island of Ceylon; for a faith that celebrates its triumph is the most ridiculous thing conceivable. If the contemporary generation of believers found no time to triumph, neither will any later generation; for the task is always the same, and Faith is always militant. But as long as there is struggle there is always a possibility of defeat, and with respect to Faith it is there fore well not to triumph before the time, that is to say, in time; for when will there be found time to compose songs of triumph or occasion to sing them?
    • p. 80
  • It is well known that Christianity is the only historical phenomenon which in spite of the historical, nay precisely by means of the historical, has intended itself to be for the single individual the point of departure for his eternal consciousness, has intended to interest him otherwise than merely historically, has intended to base his eternal happiness on his relationship to something historical. No system of philosophy, addressing itself only to thought, no mythology, addressing itself solely to the imagination, no historical knowledge, addressing itself to the memory, has ever had this idea: of which it may be said with all possible ambiguity in this connection, that it did not arise in the heart of any man.
    • p. 81
  • The monks never finished telling the history of the world because they always began with the creation; if in dealing with the relations between philosophy and Christianity we begin by first recounting what has previously been said, how will it ever be possible -- not to finish but to begin; for history continues to grow.
    • p. 81-82
  • A good man wishes to serve humanity by presenting a probability-proof, so as to help it accept the improbable. He is successful beyond all measure; deeply moved, he receives congratulations and addresses of thanksgiving, not only from the quality, who know
    • p. 82
  • The projected hypothesis indisputably makes an advance upon Socrates, which is apparent at every point. Whether it is therefore more true than the Socratic doctrine is an entirely different question, which cannot be decided in the same breath, since we have here assumed a new organ: Faith; a new presupposition: the consciousness of Sin; a new decision: the Moment; and a new Teacher: the God in Time. Without these I certainly never would have dared present myself for inspection before that master of Irony, admired through the centuries, whom I approach with a palpitating enthusiasm that yields to none. But to make an advance upon Socrates and yet say essentially the same things as he, only not nearly so well -- that at least is not Socratic.
    • p. 82

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